I Love The 70's

Whats not to love about the 70's, lairy cars, crazy dress-sense, hairy women (forget the last bit). TWO feature looking at 70's biking

Barry Sheene was advertising Brut 33 on TV, kids everywhere were scuffing their knuckles on mum's lino winding up Evel Knievel toys, the height of paddock fashion was a Polyester jacket emblazoned with sew-on patches, and Harley-Davidsons were winning two-stroke Grand Prix! Hell, at the start of the decade that made John Travolta a star and Starsky and Hutch the coolest men in a Ford Torino anywhere, you didn't even have to wear a crash helmet here in the UK. Far out. Welcome back to the 1970s, man.

If you're too young to remember when leathers were flared and knee sliders hadn't even been invented, read on and find out what you missed. If you're in your mid-30s and starting to sag, you'd best have a hanky at the ready because you'll be shedding tears of nostalgia by the end of this groovy feature my friend.

The 1970s saw the death of Burger King himself, Elvis Presley. Star Wars, Jaws and Grease dominated cinema screens and bikers everywhere drooled over Suzi Quatro - now to be found playing dingy bars at the TT and somewhat more wrinkled and shrunken than in her heyday.

Yes, they were heady, long haired, patterned wallpaper days when track safety wasn't all it should have been and Mike Hailwood was still winning TTs.
So don your Lewis Leathers (body armour forbidden), buckle up your courier-style 'race' boots, spin a David Essex LP on the turntable and settle back as we race down the time tunnel to re-discover what motorcycling was all about three decades ago.

THE BIKES WE RODE (or at least drooled after down the chippie)

At the dawn of the 70s, the bike to have was still Honda's revolutionary CB750, the machine usually accredited with being the first 'superbike.'
Although it was launched in 1969, no-one had bettered it as the new decade began. Rival manufacturers tried to fight back with a range of multi-cylinder two strokes like Kawasaki's evil 500H1 triple and Suzuki's GT750 'Kettle' but four cylinder, four strokes were proving the way to go, not least because of new, stricter emissions laws.

In 1973, Kawasaki released its own four cylinder, four stroke Honda-beater in the shape of the £1,088 Z1. At 900cc, it may have been bigger and faster than the Honda but it still handled like a piece of shit - a problem with most bikes throughout this flower-packed decade.

In a bid to stand at least a fighting chance of getting their bikes round corners, owners of lardy, wobbly Jap fours turned to aftermarket firms who specialised in taking reliable Japanese engines and fitting then in a chassis that actually worked. Bimota, Van Veen, Rickman and Seeley were just a few examples. It's hard to imagine today that you could buy a top class superbike which didn't handle but that was the absolute norm in the 70s so consider yourself lucky, and relatively safe, now young man.

But it was still a pretty cool decade for technical developments and one we should still be thankful for. No Suzuki GS1000 then would have meant no GSX-R1000 now, and that would be shite.

Disc brakes, alloy wheels, radial (as opposed to cross-ply) tyres, adjustable suspension and even full fairings were all born out of the 70s even if full-on race replicas were still a decade away. But who cared about real race reps when you could have a Yamaha RD400? The RD was the king of the chip shop in the mid 70s and was the first production bike to have alloy wheels instead of the old spoked models. But they were an option and would set you back an extra £61 over the bike's £599 list price in 1976. Advertised as a bike capable of 103mph (snigger snigger), the ad carried a rider which stated that this was only possible when the laws and conditions allowed. That'll be never then since track days had yet to take off. But the rider didn't affect kids all over Britain who raced each other with glee on urban tracks, usually having a finish line in front of the chippie where there were greasy, cod-munching girlies to impress.

One promising idea which never really took off was the Wankel (snigger, snigger, again) rotary engine designed by German engineer Felix Wankel. The engine offered a high power to weight ratio (in the 1950s, a 49cc rotary-engined bike managed to clock more than 120mph!) but proved to be too much of a gas guzzler. Suzuki's RE5 rotary, launched in 1975 and deleted just two years later, returned less than 30mpg from a 497cc engine.

But if you were going to have a rotary and your middle name was Minted, you couldn't have done any better than the incredible Van Veen OCR1000. Outrageously priced at £15,000 (or £65,747.86 in today's money...), the 100bhp handbuilt twin was launched in 1976 and oozed quality and exclusivity from every nut and bolt. It was an incredible bike, just a shame nobody except John Travolta and maybe Barry Manilow could afford one.

Honda and Kawasaki built prototype rotaries but never put them into production and the idea which had promised so much was effectually left for dead. Big bore Japanese fours were taking over.

By 1977, not only had Elvis passed on whilst passing a king-sized stool, but Suzuki had launched the incredible GS1000 which was good for 135mph and handled better than its other Japanese rivals, relatively speaking. And at £1,725, it was infinitely more affordable than a Van Veen rotary. Now even Leo Sayer could get in on the action. In the same year, Kawasaki had increased the capacity of its Z1 to 1000cc creating the Z1000 and upped capacity again the following year with the launch of the Z1300.

Bigger was better and Honda, as ever, had its own ideas. In 1975, the firm created a biking legend which is still in production today, though in a totally unrecognisable format. The first Goldwing to be launched was a 999cc four cylinder machine, Honda having rejected its flat six prototype for production. But it wasn't always covered in panniers and slabs - the first bike was as naked as the stars of Emanuelle. But aftermarket panniers became popular with Wing owners and Honda eventually incorporated them as standard along with cake mixers, teasmaids and vacuum cleaner extensions. Honda eventually went back to the six cylinder formation for the Wing in the 1980s........but that's another story.

Adding panniers to a bike is one thing, chopping it up and customising it is another but that was the new craze which took off in the 70s, particularly in the United States. The classic 1969 biker film 'Easy Rider' kickstarted a massive interest in customising bikes, mostly Harley-Davidsons which peaked in the 70s. Stretched forks, ape hanger bars, tassles, peanut tanks and wacko paint jobs were all considered cooler than the Fonz himself and although Americans had stripped no-essentials away from their bikes as far back as the immediate post-war period, this new faze was all about style rather than function. So those who could did, and those who couldn't wore 'Ride to live, live to ride' T-shirts. Or badges. Or bandanas. Or rings.

Many choppers were inspired by the work of American bike artist Dave Mann and the demand for ever more excessive parts sparked up an entire aftermarket industry which still thrives today.

Another invention of the 70s which we now take for granted today was the appearance of full fairing on production bikes. Although race bikes had used full bodywork for years (most notable the luvverly all-enclosed dustbin fairing), and after market fairings were widely available, the first standard production bike to feature one in the 70s was BMW's R100RS.

The year 1971 was an important one for Ducati as it marked the first use of Desmodromic valve gear on a road bike, even though it was a single. Then in 1973, the firm basically lumped two singles together and created its first 90 degree V-twin. The Desmodromic twins would go on to dominate in a championship which was still 15 years away from being Bjorn.

By the end of the 70s, production superbikes were capable of doing 140mph but, unless you bought exotica like Bimotas, they still weren't up to it in the handling stakes. That would have to wait until the next decade.

THE GRAND PRIX

"The sole reason I get up in the morning is to beat Barry Sheene."

Kenny Roberts on Barry Sheene.

"He couldn't develop a cold, never mind a motorcycle."

Barry Sheene on Kenny Roberts.

Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi may be stealing all the bikesport headlines this year with their on and off-track rivalry, but in the 1970's Sheene and Roberts had already perfected the art of hating your racing rival.

Sheene was undoubtedly the biggest racing star of the decade and remains one of the best known names ever bred by the sport. In fact, next to Evel Knievel, he was the best known name in biking full stop.

It wasn't just lifting the 500cc world championship in 1976 and 1977 that made him a household name either, it was the sheer star quality of the cheeky cockney chappie. Sheene starred in Brut 33 (that's a cheap nasty aftershave to you kids who don't know any better) adverts on TV alongside Henry Cooper and was even mainstream enough to appear on Parkinson.

Bazza became the sport's first multi-millionaire with personal sponsorship deals from Hi Fi companies and jeans manufacturers. He was a major household celebrity in a way that no bike racer has ever equalled (with the exception of Rossi at home in Italy).

Sheene even went on to host a prime time TV show called 'That's Amazing' which featured, er, amazing people doing amazing things. Amazingly enough.
The turning point for Sheene came in 1975 when his rear tyre blew up at 178mph on the Daytona banking - conveniently in front of a TV crew shadowing him for a documentary. From the moment the footage was shown on every news channel this side of the Arctic Circle, Sheene was an international star.
He pioneered the art of flying to circuits in his own helicopter, disco'd the nights away with a string of blonde bombshells in Tramps nightclub and was never known for sitting on the fence when it came to offering opinions on, well, anything at all really. And who else would have drilled a hole in the chinbar of their helmet so they could smoke a fag on the GP startline? Pure class mate.

Sheene also badmouthed the TT for being too dangerous and was partly responsible for it losing its world championship status in 1976. But he did do his bit for comfort in the paddock by being the first rider to start taking caravans to races instead of old Ford Transits.

By 1978 Sheene's fame was well secured, as it is to this day, but he didn't like it one little bit when a young American pioneer started whipping his ass on the racetracks of the world. Kenny Roberts (no not that one, it's his dad) came to Europe in 78 after years on American dirt tracks and he brought his rear wheel sliding, knee on the deck technique with him. It seemed to work as he not only won the 500cc championship at his first attempt, he won it for three years in succession. Sheene was beat but he remained a bigger name to non-motorcyclists than Kenny Roberts and is still the only racer your average man in the street could name. Oh, and he's still Britain's most recent 500cc world champion. How crap is that?

While Sheene was the playboy star of 70's racing, the decade will be remembered for many more legendary riders and performances.
Italian Giacomo Agostini notched up his last four 500cc world titles in the 70s (as well as another five 350 titles) to give him a grand total of 15 world titles, a feat never likely to be matched let alone bettered.

Controversial Brit Phil Read won two 500 crowns riding MV Agustas in 1973 and 1974, his last 500 title was also the last for MV and more poignantly, the last for a four stroke machine. Could that all change next year?

Like Sheene, Read badmouthed the TT and helped ensure its downfall by refusing to ride there but he changed his mind in 1977 and returned to win the first F1 race for Honda as well as the Senior event.

The 70s saw a bizarre array of machinery lining up to race in, and sometimes win, GP races. The thought of Harley-Davidson winning a GP today is laughable to say the least but it wasn't the case in the 70s. With Italian hot shot Walter Villa on board, the American bikes won 250cc titles in '74 and '75 and in '76, they picked up the 250 and 350 crowns.

But just as Harley have gone from being GP winners to big V-twin cruiser makers, Honda went from being a GP laughing stock to being entirely dominant in the sport today. The year 1979 saw the debut of the technologically interesting but bollocks-performing NR500 four stroke.
The oval pistoned V-four cost a fortune to develop but despite racing for four years, it never scored a single championship point. Definitely not a bike you'd want in your Top Trumps collection of the day.

In the 70s, GP racers didn't just race at GPs. There were huge one-off international meetings like the Mallory Park Race of the Year which attracted names like Roberts and Sheene. But one of the biggest attractions were the Transatlantic Trophy Races which pitted America's top riders against the Brits at various circuits including Mallory Park, Brands Hatch and Oulton Park. Names like Sheene, Roberts, Spencer and Mamola all took part in the challenge until its demise in the early 80s when factory contracts prevented riders competing outside GPs with one notable exception being the Suzuka 8 hour.

500cc GRAND PRIX WORLD CHAMPIONS OF THE 1970s

1970: Giacomo Agostini

1971: Giacomo Agostini

1972: Giacomo Agostini

1973: Phil Read

1974: Phil Read

1975: Giacomo Agostini

1976: Barry Sheene

1977: Barry Sheene

1978: Kenny Roberts

1979: Kenny Roberts

THE ISLE OF MAN TT

At the start of the 1970s, the TT was still a round of the GP world championships and still the biggest race event in the world. But after Italian Gilberto Parlotti (a close friend of Agostini's) was killed at the TT in 1972, the writing was on the wall for the event as a world championship round.
Parlotti had only gone to the Island to maintain his lead in the 125 world championship.

After his death, Agostini declared he would never race there again and many other riders, including Britain's Phil Read made the same vow, ultimately forcing the FIM to withdraw the TT from the world championship calendar after the 1976 event. The party was over. Or was it?

Many thought the TT couldn't exist as a one-off international event. They were wrong. In 1977, the TT's first year as a non-championship race, one William Joseph Dunlop claimed his first of 26 wins in the Jubilee Classic event. While the rest of the UK was celebrating the Jubilee by lighting bonfires, having street parties and waving silly flags (apart from the Sex Pistols who were playing 'God Save the Queen' from a barge on the Thames much to the disgruntlement of the establishment), Joey was wrestling an unwieldy Johnny Rea four cylinder 750 Yamaha in a Suzuki frame to a maiden victory with a fastest lap of 110.93mph. He was to contribute greatly to the continued survival of the TT over the next 24 years by becoming the most successful rider ever over the mountain course - and by far the most popular.

Another legend who kept the event alive was Mike 'the bike' Hailwood, arguably the greatest bike racer in history. Can you think of anyone else who could come out of an 11 year retirement and still win a TT? Thought not. But that's just what Mike did in 1978 when he won the Formula 1 TT on a Ducati 750SS. He also won the senior race the following year on a Suzuki RG500.

If you couldn't make it to the TTs in the 70s there was another option. In the days before home videos, you could actually buy the Manx Radio TT commentary on vinyl! Yes groover, a TT LP! Yours for just £3.78 including P&P.

Many famous TT riders of the 70s had surnames which are familiar to race fans today as their sons and nephews took up the gauntlet and followed the family racing tradition. They include Ron Haslam who's son Leon races in 500GPs, George Fogarty, father of the future four times WSB champion Carl, Tony Rutter who's son Michael has since enjoyed his own TT success, Tony Jefferies who is the uncle of the latest king of the mountain David Jefferies, Bill Simpson who later spannered for triple TT winning son Ian, and Paul Smart, father of Scott Smart who has raced in almost every class imaginable and also commentates for Channel 5's GP coverage.

THE GEAR

Forget Dainese Cordura coats, Alpinestars trainers and Oakley sunglasses, if you wanted to be a fashion guru in a 70s race paddock the requirements were somewhat different. Polyester team jackets (or bodywarmers) were the favoured choice of pit crews and fans alike, lavished with sew-on patches of your favourite oils, marques and teams. Remember the famous Suzuki S? Or the Texaco patch just like Sheene's? And the good old Champion spark plugs patch? Pure class mate and not a bit of carbon fibre insight. It was also obligatory to have stripes down the sleeves.

As far as shades went, the bigger and more tasteless the better, just like the ones your mum still keeps in the car.

Floppy hats had to be covered in pin badges from the IOM TT, Ulster GP and Scarborough meetings you'd been to and sideburns were compulsory facial wear. Ron Haslam's obviously never been told that they're not any longer. Oh, and your hair had to be long and it had to look like it had been washed in Castrol R oil while flared jeans (with liberal smearings of Castrol R again) completed the look.

Of course, this apparel didn't provide much protection when riding home but nobody gave a shit about safety in the 70s anyway. And if you did buy proper riding kit, it wasn't much better. No sir. No Kevlar stretch panels, no CE-approved armour, no toe sliders, no carbon fibre gloves and no back protectors. The best you could hope for was a one-piece Lewis Leathers or Lookwell leather suit which didn't have any armour, a pair of 'racing' boots which buckled up like a London courier's and a pair of shite thin leather gloves which offered as much protection as a pair of Marigolds - and looked just like them for that matter.

Arai had yet to break onto the scene but the 70s equivalent was Bell. The Bell Star helmet was the only one to have. If Bell was good enough for Kenny Roberts, it was good enough for you mate. Or if you couldn't bear to wear the American's brand, you could support the golden boy and buy a King Barry Sheene replica for £39 (£136.28).

And there was no paying upwards of £700 for a leather suit in the 70s. In 1978, John Brown Wheels of Warwick was advertising suits from just £49.50 (£172.97) ranging up to a stonking £100 (£349.44) for a top of the range model. A tasty fringed leather jacket would have set you back £29.50 (£103.08) and open face lids started at £8.70 (£30.40)! Still, the average wage was about £40 a week (£139.77) so they're not really the bargains they appear.

In the racing world, full face helmets started to make an appearance internationally in 1970 but the British ruling body, the ACU banned them because the rider could suffocate in a crash! English rider Paul Smart was one of the first Brits to used one after bringing it back from Daytona saying: "You couldn't ride there with an open face - it would just flip off the back of your head."

Smart, incidentally, was also one of the first riders to pioneer the now compulsory art of hanging off a bike but he says it wasn't intentional: "We didn't have the tyre compounds to permit amazing angles of lean and the bikes didn't have much ground clearance so I was just doing what felt comfortable in the circumstances."

But one added bonus of 70s fashion was that, in the days before we all became politically correct, most items of clothing were modelled by birds with their tits out. Which was nice.

It appears we've come full circle with biking kit (apart from the tits out stuff) as the current market is saturated with retro 70s-style stripey leather jackets with big collars and stripey retro T-shirts too. Just pray Polyester doesn't make a comeback.

THE CULTURE

IF Barry Sheene was the biggest name in bike racing in the 70s, then Evel Knievel was the biggest name in biking. Although the time he spent on bikes was minimal compared to that he spent in hospital, he became a household name the world over for his crazy jumps, star spangled outfit and ........his toys. Knievel teamed up with Ideal Toys in 1973 and came up with some of the most successful toys of the decade - they even outsold GI Joe figures fer feck's sake.

Yes sir, in the pre-Playstation era there was only one toy to have - an Evel Knievel wind up motorcycle and action figure. Actually there was more than one. Kids could chose from the Sky Cycle, the Strato Cycle, the Stunt Cycle, the Chopper and the Trail bike as well as an Evel Knievel Formula 1 Dragster and collapsing stunt car. There were even adventure sets like the Evel Knievel Arctic Explorer set and the Evel Knievel rescue set.

But the real McCoy was the wind up toy complete with sticker decal set. Bend the rubbery action figure (for which you could also buy leisure suits) into position on the bike, struggle to get his useless stiff fingers round the bars, give up and let him sit upright on the bike, wind up the 'Gyro-powered Energiser' skiffing your knuckles on the floor as you did so, then send rubbery Evel flying over home made ramps (books), ravines, toy cars and ultimately, your little sister. Oh, and make sure you leave some rubbery darkies on the naff 70s linoleum so your mum is forced to whack your ears. Fan-bloody-tastic mister. They sure don't make 'em like they used to.

The toy range made Mr Knievel much more money than any of his jumps and it was a lot less painless too. Makes you wonder why he bothered jumping. Presumably they didn't make alcoholic Evel dolls with exploding livers in the 80s when the old boy was having problems.

With all things bikey becoming cool thanks to the efforts of Mr Sheene and Knievel, it was inevitable that bikes should star in their own TV series and in 1977 they did when CHiPS hit the screen. California Highway Patrol officers Frank 'Ponch' Poncherello and Jon Baker rode their jodhpur-clad asses off through the final years of the decade chasing cartoon bad guys and wooing the lovely ladies.

Even with stiff competition (fnarr, fnarr) from cop shows Starsky and Hutch and the Professionals, CHiPS was one of the most popular shows of the era and you'll still find repeats if you search your satellite channels for long enough.

While Ponch and Jon were fighting bad guys, Harley-Davidson was engaged in battle with Japanese machinery for the land speed record throughout the 70s. In 1970, American Don Vesco blasted along the Bonneville Salt Flats at a rocking 251.6mph in a fully enclosed, twin-engined 700cc two stroke Kawasaki. Harley hit back immediately with a speed of 265.5mph achieved by road racer Cal Rayborn on a 1480cc Hog.

But Vesco had the last laugh of the decade in 1978 when he reached an awesome 318.5mph in his Lightning Bolt which was in fact, two Kawasaki Z1000 engines bolted together. Just as well he didn't have to take any corners.

Land speed records largely lost their appeal after the 70s as did jumping over buses in spangly suits, wearing Live to Ride T-shirts on choppers and swapping Barry Sheene posters at school. Of course, some die-hards keep all these traditions going but the focus of bikers changed when a new decade dawned. An age of new American GP legends began, bikes that actually handled straight from the crate became available to the mass public and bike kit started to incorporate some protection. Chip shops became Kebab houses so we wheelied past them instead and Evel Knievel toys were replaced by bike racing videos as the number one indoor biking activity.

But for some, and you know who you are, the magic of 70s biking will never be replaced by plastic oil-tight race reps and Cordura jackets with no sew-on patches. TWO leaves the last word on the decade to a man who was there, in his prime, and loving every minute of it - Steve Parrish.

I LOVED THE 70s BECAUSE......

Steve Parrish, now 47, was a factory Suzuki Grand Prix rider and team mate to Barry Sheene in 1977. He fell off on the last lap while leading the British GP after Sheene (who had retired) held up a pit board saying 'Gas it wanker.' "I did and I crashed at the next corner."

Did you have any road bikes in the 70s? A Yamaha YDS5 and a Suzuki GS1000.

What was your favourite piece of bike clothing? Well my leathers were all so shitty so I'd have to say my AGV helmet cos they paid me lots.
Did you have long hair and sideburns? I couldn't grow sideburns because I obviously wasn't man enough but I did have long, curly hair. I looked like Leo Sayer.

Who was your dream 70s woman? Bridget Bardot. No, that was the 60s. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) from the Avengers.

Did you own a pair of flares? Oh yes. I was always tripping over the bloody things.

Did you wear a medallion? No but I did have a thick gold chain and bracelet.

Best rider of the 70s? Barry Sheene. Not just because of his riding but because of his ability to blag parts and get the right bikes because of his contacts. And he's a mate.

Barry Sheene or Evel Knievel? Barry Sheene.

Abba or the Sex Pistols? Abba because one of their session drummers is a mate of mine from truck racing.

Star Wars or Jaws? Jaws.

Starsky and Hutch or the Professionals? The Professionals because I wanted that three litre Capri.

I loved the 70s because.....Of the greater freedom of life. I was able to live happily without being arrested and getting into trouble all the time.

70s SNIPPETS

* IT became compulsory to wear a crash helmet in the UK in 1973 and one unexpected side effect was a 24% drop in bike thefts! The thinking was that not all thieves owned helmets and, because of the new laws, they would have drawn attention to themselves by riding a stolen bike with no lid on. Sadly, most thieves now have very nice lids.

* 1977 saw the first ever British GP on the mainland. The TT had always been Britain's round of the world championships since their inception in 1949. But when it was struck off the calendar for safety reasons, the action moved to Silverstone in Northants where it ran for 10 years before moving to the current venue at Donington Park.

* BIMOTA was founded on January 1, 1973 in response to demand for Massimo Tamburini's custom work on Honda CB750s. With an uncanny knack for making them lighter and handle better, Bianchi then went on to build the famous SB2 in 1977 using a Suzuki GS-750 engine and then the to-die-for KB1 with Kawasaki 903 and 1015cc motors later that year. By the end of the 70s, Bimota was still on a high but financial trouble was just round the corner.

* BRITISH bike firm Velocette folded in 1971, 58 years after it started making bikes. Despite sounding French and being founded by a German, the factory was in Blighty and the classic KIT 350cc model took the first eight places in the 1930 Manx Grand Prix. The firm's last venture was a scooter launched in 1971 but when that flopped, it spelled the end for Velocette.

* DONINGTON Park, more or less as we now know it, was re-opened in 1978. It was actually used for bike races as far back as 1931 before being taken over by the army during WW II. Tom Wheatcroft bought the land and rebuilt a 2.5 mile circuit in 1978. It would host the British bike GP just nine years later.

* WITH the new craze for Supermotos building, everyone's heard of British firm CCM, but they were less well known the the 1970s. The company was founded in 1971 and initially made motocross bikes to Alan Clews' designs from BSA parts. Eventually they started to manufacture their own parts and now build popular Supermoto and endurance bikes from their Lancashire HQ.

* THE first issue of bike racing's annual bible Motocourse was released in 1976 with - you've guessed it - Barry Sheene on the cover. The hardback book was the only complete record to have of the Grand Prix world championships and getting hold of one of the early copies now is extremely difficult.

This feature was first published in the November 2002 issue of TWO


Barry Sheene was advertising Brut 33 on TV, kids everywhere were scuffing their knuckles on mum's lino winding up Evel Knievel toys, the height of paddock fashion was a Polyester jacket emblazoned with sew-on patches, and Harley-Davidsons were winning two-stroke Grand Prix! Hell, at the start of the decade that made John Travolta a star and Starsky and Hutch the coolest men in a Ford Torino anywhere, you didn't even have to wear a crash helmet here in the UK. Far out. Welcome back to the 1970s, man.

If you're too young to remember when leathers were flared and knee sliders hadn't even been invented, read on and find out what you missed. If you're in your mid-30s and starting to sag, you'd best have a hanky at the ready because you'll be shedding tears of nostalgia by the end of this groovy feature my friend.

The 1970s saw the death of Burger King himself, Elvis Presley. Star Wars, Jaws and Grease dominated cinema screens and bikers everywhere drooled over Suzi Quatro - now to be found playing dingy bars at the TT and somewhat more wrinkled and shrunken than in her heyday.

Yes, they were heady, long haired, patterned wallpaper days when track safety wasn't all it should have been and Mike Hailwood was still winning TTs.

So don your Lewis Leathers (body armour forbidden), buckle up your courier-style 'race' boots, spin a David Essex LP on the turntable and settle back as we race down the time tunnel to re-discover what motorcycling was all about three decades ago.

THE BIKES WE RODE

(or at least drooled after down the chippie)

At the dawn of the 70s, the bike to have was still Honda's revolutionary CB750, the machine usually accredited with being the first 'superbike.'

Although it was launched in 1969, no-one had bettered it as the new decade began. Rival manufacturers tried to fight back with a range of multi-cylinder two strokes like Kawasaki's evil 500H1 triple and Suzuki's GT750 'Kettle' but four cylinder, four strokes were proving the way to go, not least because of new, stricter emissions laws.

In 1973, Kawasaki released its own four cylinder, four stroke Honda-beater in the shape of the £1,088 Z1. At 900cc, it may have been bigger and faster than the Honda but it still handled like a piece of shit - a problem with most bikes throughout this flower-packed decade.

In a bid to stand at least a fighting chance of getting their bikes round corners, owners of lardy, wobbly Jap fours turned to aftermarket firms who specialised in taking reliable Japanese engines and fitting then in a chassis that actually worked. Bimota, Van Veen, Rickman and Seeley were just a few examples. It's hard to imagine today that you could buy a top class superbike which didn't handle but that was the absolute norm in the 70s so consider yourself lucky, and relatively safe, now young man.
But it was still a pretty cool decade for technical developments and one we should still be thankful for. No Suzuki GS1000 then would have meant no GSX-R1000 now, and that would be shite.

Disc brakes, alloy wheels, radial (as opposed to cross-ply) tyres, adjustable suspension and even full fairings were all born out of the 70s even if full-on race replicas were still a decade away. But who cared about real race reps when you could have a Yamaha RD400? The RD was the king of the chip shop in the mid 70s and was the first production bike to have alloy wheels instead of the old spoked models. But they were an option and would set you back an extra £61 over the bike's £599 list price in 1976. Advertised as a bike capable of 103mph (snigger snigger), the ad carried a rider which stated that this was only possible when the laws and conditions allowed. That'll be never then since track days had yet to take off. But the rider didn't affect kids all over Britain who raced each other with glee on urban tracks, usually having a finish line in front of the chippie where there were greasy, cod-munching girlies to impress.

One promising idea which never really took off was the Wankel (snigger, snigger, again) rotary engine designed by German engineer Felix Wankel. The engine offered a high power to weight ratio (in the 1950s, a 49cc rotary-engined bike managed to clock more than 120mph!) but proved to be too much of a gas guzzler. Suzuki's RE5 rotary, launched in 1975 and deleted just two years later, returned less than 30mpg from a 497cc engine.

But if you were going to have a rotary and your middle name was Minted, you couldn't have done any better than the incredible Van Veen OCR1000. Outrageously priced at £15,000 (or £65,747.86 in today's money...), the 100bhp handbuilt twin was launched in 1976 and oozed quality and exclusivity from every nut and bolt. It was an incredible bike, just a shame nobody except John Travolta and maybe Barry Manilow could afford one.

Honda and Kawasaki built prototype rotaries but never put them into production and the idea which had promised so much was effectually left for dead. Big bore Japanese fours were taking over.
By 1977, not only had Elvis passed on whilst passing a king-sized stool, but Suzuki had launched the incredible GS1000 which was good for 135mph and handled better than its other Japanese rivals, relatively speaking. And at £1,725, it was infinitely more affordable than a Van Veen rotary.

Now even Leo Sayer could get in on the action. In the same year, Kawasaki had increased the capacity of its Z1 to 1000cc creating the Z1000 and upped capacity again the following year with the launch of the Z1300.

Bigger was better and Honda, as ever, had its own ideas. In 1975, the firm created a biking legend which is still in production today, though in a totally unrecognisable format. The first Goldwing to be launched was a 999cc four cylinder machine, Honda having rejected its flat six prototype for production. But it wasn't always covered in panniers and slabs - the first bike was as naked as the stars of Emanuelle. But aftermarket panniers became popular with Wing owners and Honda eventually incorporated them as standard along with cake mixers, teasmaids and vacuum cleaner extensions.

Honda eventually went back to the six cylinder formation for the Wing in the 1980s........but that's another story.

Adding panniers to a bike is one thing, chopping it up and customising it is another but that was the new craze which took off in the 70s, particularly in the United States. The classic 1969 biker film 'Easy Rider' kickstarted a massive interest in customising bikes, mostly Harley-Davidsons which peaked in the 70s. Stretched forks, ape hanger bars, tassles, peanut tanks and wacko paint jobs were all considered cooler than the Fonz himself and although Americans had stripped no-essentials away from their bikes as far back as the immediate post-war period, this new faze was all about style rather than function. So those who could did, and those who couldn't wore 'Ride to live, live to ride' T-shirts. Or badges. Or bandanas. Or rings.

Many choppers were inspired by the work of American bike artist Dave Mann and the demand for ever more excessive parts sparked up an entire aftermarket industry which still thrives today.

Another invention of the 70s which we now take for granted today was the appearance of full fairing on production bikes. Although race bikes had used full bodywork for years (most notable the luvverly all-enclosed dustbin fairing), and after market fairings were widely available, the first standard production bike to feature one in the 70s was BMW's R100RS.

The year 1971 was an important one for Ducati as it marked the first use of Desmodromic valve gear on a road bike, even though it was a single. Then in 1973, the firm basically lumped two singles together and created its first 90 degree V-twin. The Desmodromic twins would go on to dominate in a championship which was still 15 years away from being Bjorn.

By the end of the 70s, production superbikes were capable of doing 140mph but, unless you bought exotica like Bimotas, they still weren't up to it in the handling stakes. That would have to wait until the next decade.

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